Articles Posted in Business Transactions

Businesses must endeavor to guard their trade secrets jealously. Failure to do so can wreak havoc upon development and growth. It will also give competitors a leg-up in the marketplace. Knowing and understanding California’s trade secret law is therefore critically important. Implementing multiple safeguards to prevent trade secret disclosure is necessary. If a business fails to implement reasonable safeguards to prevent trade secret misappropriation, then the business may be without recourse in court. Working closely with experienced business attorneys to develop the appropriate security measures to prevent trade secret theft could prevent disaster from striking. The San Jose San Jose business attorneys at Structure Law Group, LLP (in San Jose and Oakland) have extensive experience counseling businesses on how to best protect their trade secrets and defending businesses against trade secret misappropriation in court.


California’s Uniform Trade Secrets Act (“UTSA”), which follows the Uniform Trade Secrets Act adopted in 48 states, defines a “trade secret” as “information, including a formula, pattern, compilation, program, device, method, technique, or process, that: (1) derives independent economic value, actual or potential, from not being generally known to the public or to other persons who can obtain economic value from its disclosure or use; and (2) is the subject of efforts that are reasonable under the circumstances to maintain its secrecy.” (Ca. Civil Code §3426.1.)

In order to assert a claim for misappropriation of trade secret information, the owner of the trade secret information must identify its trade secret with sufficient specificity so that the information is separate from areas of general knowledge. For example, customer lists, marketing plans or pricing concessions are examples of broad categories of trade secret information. Or, the trade secret can be highly specific, such as a newly designed manufacturing process or the recipe for some sugary carbonated beverage, such as the recipe for Coca-Cola.

When you enter a contract with a provider, a client, or another business setting forth the terms of your business deal, you expect the other party to abide by the terms of the contract. If the other party fails to adhere to the terms of your business agreement, it can cost you time and money and can be infuriating, especially if you have performed your obligations under the contract or the breach of contract costs you money or future business. Business owners harmed by another party’s breach of contract often want to immediately march into court and file a lawsuit against the breaching party. However, this is often not the best or most advantageous course of action and often may even constituted a breach of contract by you. If you believe that a contract has been breached, consider promptly consulting with a qualified attorney to evaluate the contract and assess rights and legal options.

Have Your Attorney Negotiate with the Other Party

Often, a party may not realize that they have violated or are not in compliance with the terms of a contract and may not understand the potential liability they face for having breached or being in non-compliance with the agreement. Many times these issues can be remedied, putting the aggrieved party in a much stronger legal and negotiating position. It may then make sense for your attorney to reach out to the other party to attempt to resolve the dispute prior to commencing a lawsuit.

Everyone knows what they say about real estate: location, location, location. This same axiom is definitely true for many businesses too. While some businesses may operate out of homes and employ their workforce remotely, many operations require a physical location to which workers and customers go on a daily basis. For example, stores, restaurants, and other locally-serving businesses always want to have a prime location with lots of foot traffic and easy access in town. Others, such as manufacturers, need large warehouses with affordable rent and room for all their equipment. While many business owners choose to own their building, many others do not have means to do so, or may not want to commit to one location long-term. For these reasons and more, many business owners lease their commercial spaces.


For any type of lease agreement or contract, you want to be sure that all of the provisions are fair and reasonable. A proper lease will set out your rights as a tenant, and you want to be sure it does so adequately. A commercial lease will also designate your responsibilities as a business tenant, and you should be aware of any terms that require unreasonable or difficult responsibilities from you. Because each of these lease types can be complex documents with confusing legal language, you should always have any potential leases reviewed by a highly experienced business attorney prior to signing.

Of course, you will want to make sure the length of the lease and rent requirements suit your needs. The following are some additional terms your attorney will consider and review:

Contracts are an integral part of conducting business and the necessity for certain contracts can arise from the very start of your company. The following are only some examples of important contracts for startups in California.


Founders’ Agreement — If you are going into business with one or more people, having a comprehensive and clear founders’ agreement is imperative. This agreement can be likened to a premarital agreement: it foresees and addresses potential issues that may arise and sets guidelines for dealing with those issues. A solid and enforceable founders’ agreement can prevent a lot of legal conflict and costs down the road.

Nondisclosure Agreements — If you have the idea or formula for a unique product or process, you want to keep information confidential so others do not try to misappropriate your idea. However, it will be necessary to share information with co-founders, employees, investors, contract developers, and others involved in the project. In such cases, you may have others sign a nondisclosure agreement to ensure they will not disclose confidential information to other parties.

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A limited liability company (“LLC”) is one of the most favored forms of business entities because they combine the advantages of a corporation, such as limited liability and protection of their members from investor-level liability, with the advantages of a partnership, such as “pass-through tax treatment.” Additionally, LLCs are characterized by the informality of its organization and internal governance, set forth through an internal contract called the operating agreement.  An LLC member can be an individual, a corporation, a partnership, another limited liability company or any other legal entity.


An LLC can be structured as a manager-managed or member-managed LLC.  In a manager-managed LLC, the members appoint a manager or managers to run and manage the LLC while the members take on a more passive role.  In a member-managed LLC, all the members share in managing the day-today operations of the LLC.  The managers or managing members who have been charged with the responsibility of running the LLC are obliged to act in the best interest of the LLC. The duties connected to this obligation are  known as fiduciary duties.   The key fiduciary duties are the duty of loyalty and the duty of care.  These duties are specifically defined by California law, as discussed in more detail below.

Requirements of a Fiduciary Duty

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At some point during the life of a limited liability company (LLC), the owners may decide that it is time to close the business.  The process of closing a business  is just as important as the process it took to create the LLC, because, among other things, the owner(s) need to provide notice to creditors and ensure that the LLC is beyond the reach of creditors.  The formal process of closing your LLC is called “dissolution.” While there are many ways to dissolve an LLC, including involuntary dissolution, this article focuses on voluntary dissolution by the LLC’s member(s) and for those LLCs which were active in conducting business during its lifespan.

Dissolving the LLC 

In order to voluntarily dissolve an LLC, the member(s) should first look to the company’s formational documents, which are the articles of organization and operating agreement.   In the majority of cases, one of these two documents will contain procedures and/or rules for how to dissolve the company.  In most cases, the procedure begins with a vote of the LLC members on a resolution to dissolve.  It is important that any specific requirements regarding the voting of member(s) are followed, such as providing for when a meeting to vote should take place, whether any advance notice to the LLC’s members is required in preparation for the meeting, and what required percentage of members is needed to pass the vote.

Issuing equity in a company is a popular form of employee compensation. This trend is especially popular here in Silicon Valley, where startup companies often defer cash compensation to their employees in exchange for a share of future growth through the issuance of equity. If you own a non-public company, you may wish to compensate your employees partially by issuing them equity in the company. Equity aligns incentives between employers and employees while enabling employees to build up wealth over a longer term. Equity issuance can be done in different ways, including by issuing restricted stock grants or by issuing stock options. Each of these forms of compensation can have its own pros and cons and you want to make sure you carefully analyze the decision and decide which is best for your circumstances.


Restricted Stock

Restricted stock is a stock award that will not fully transfer to the employee until certain conditions have been met. These conditions can include a certain length of time working for your company, meeting certain performance or financial goals or milestones, and more. These restrictions can be helpful for owners to ensure that employees do not simply walk away from your venture and that they must wait for the award to vest before they receive the stock benefits. In addition, by making an 83(b) election with the IRS within a certain period of time after the restricted stock grant, employees can save significantly on the tax burden once the stock vests. If no election is made, however, employees may face hefty tax liability at the time of vesting depending on the value of the shares. Restricted stock is less risky and easier to manage in comparison to regular stock.  However, restricted stock has less favorable tax treatment than options.

Starting a business with a partner can be highly beneficial: collaborations offer many benefits and are particularly popular with startups and firms providing professional services. When you start a business with another person or people, the last thing you expect is to end up in a disagreement about business ownership. Unfortunately, these kinds of disputes arise on a regular basis and can have a significant impact on the success of your business as well as your personal bottom line.

Business disputes can arise in a variety of contexts – here are some of the most common situations:

  • A party may attempt to assert authority which he or she does not have

It is not uncommon for businesses in today’s global economy to engage in international transactions. More often than not, these transactions require an exchange of business and/or legal documentation. Although these documents are signed and exchanged by those who have been engaged in business together, there are times when the documents must still be authenticated in order to be used in a foreign country from which the document originates.


The Hague Convention of 1961 established a certification to authenticate documents to be used in foreign countries. This certification is known as an apostille. The apostille is attached to the document that is being sent overseas and it certifies the authenticity of the signature of the documents; it does not actually certify the contents of that document. The apostille is required to be used by a designated verifying authority in a country party to the Hague Convention.

Apostille Requirements

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A business will select a certain business entity at the time of formation for a variety of different reasons. One of the most important reasons businesses elect a certain type of business entity is to protect owners and investors from personal liability. Business entities such as corporations and limited liability companies (LLCs) remain attractive because they protect owners, investors, members, etc. from personal liability. On the other hand, entities such as a sole proprietorship or partnership leave owners open to personal liability for corporate debts.


Yet, while limited liability protections exist for corporations and limited liability companies, these protections are not impenetrable. Rather, personal liability may, in some circumstances, run through the company and attach to its owners and investors. This is called “piercing the corporate veil” and it is something of which all businesses, whether starting out or established, should be well aware.

How Can the Corporate Veil be Pierced?